shammarriage

The Night I Got Drunk Enough to Tell My Wife I’m Gay

Shane McClelland, a gay man in Ohio, was married to a woman for seven years. He tells MEL about his life in a 'lavender' marriage — and what it took to finally come out

Though he’s now the out-and-proud host of Queer Ghost Hunters on YouTube and goes by Lana Del Gay on Twitter, coming out and being out wasn’t exactly the easiest road for Shane McClelland. It was after seven years of marriage — to a woman he truly believed he loved — that he realized he’d been suppressing his true self his entire life. This is Shane’s story.

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I grew up in a more conservative family, in a conservative community in rural Ohio. Being gay was wrong, it wasn’t normal — and it says so right in the Bible. The gays were strange, other people. They weren’t me or people like me. I knew I was gay, but I internalized the casual homophobia that I experienced around me, and so I didn’t believe I was gay. I chose to be “straight” just like gay people chose to be gay.

My family was homophobic in a quiet way. They weren’t raging against the gay agenda all day or anything like that. But I knew gay people were different, and I knew they were different in a bad way. Somehow I knew it was a “choice.” Gays decided to live a different lifestyle, and they would pay for that lifestyle by going to hell. There really weren’t media or role models to counteract that imagery. When there was, it was flamboyant, problematic or just queerness alluded to.

They Could Have People Electrocute Me Until I Wasn’t Like This

Being gay was something I always knew about myself. It was this fun little fact that was supposed to be kept to myself. Any time it started to bubble up in my personality or actions, it was quietly put back in its little box by the adults around me. If you could hear my parents talk about that now, you’d quickly realize that apparently everyone knew I was gay and was wanting to make sure I never found out.

I grew up at the dawn of the Internet Age, and apparently hadn’t been so great at covering my tracks. When my mom discovered whichever websites I had been visiting, she talked to my dad and they decided to talk with me. I wish I could say the conversation was healthy and productive, but the reality is that it made me afraid to be who I am. I was told in no uncertain terms that this was not okay, that it is not something that would be allowed to continue, and that if I really felt that I was like this, they would have someone fix me. That they could send me away and have people electrocute me until I wasn’t like this.

Needless to say, that didn’t sound like an amazing time.

In high school, I started dating a lovely woman. She was a sophomore and I was junior. We had a lot of similar groups: Mock Trial, In the Know (Quiz Bowl), student council, band. Small schools are like that. At first we didn’t really get along. She thought I was jerk. I probably was. She was pretty, popular, had marvelous red hair and was an amazing vocalist. We were eventually able to become friends. She told me we were going on a date. We saw the movie Chicago. We ended up going to the same college and getting married at 20. We were married for seven years, from 2007 to 2014.

We separated for about the last year of our marriage. I guess it’s a little like Will and Grace, only we didn’t just become best friends and roommates.

I didn’t get married for show or as a cover for who I was. Let me explain.

I had fully convinced myself that this internal struggle was normal — that other people experienced it. I got married because I was in love with a woman that I thought was perfect for me… and maybe, to some degree, that would help the feelings go away. It’s a strange thought process and admittedly doesn’t make much sense, but at the time it made sense to me. That was enough. It wasn’t a daily struggle to rationalize and maybe that made it easier to handle. The feelings and thoughts would sort of come in waves, over periods of time. It’s hard to describe.

I Mentally Split Love From Attraction

It wasn’t a sham marriage in the sense that it wasn’t a joke or done to be deceitful. We had a great relationship, and I felt what can only be described as love toward her. There was just very much a disconnect between the reality of the relationship, and the desires I felt toward other men.

At first, relationship-wise, everything was very easy. She was truly my best friend, and I legitimately loved her. But as time went on, it became an internal struggle between knowing or admitting to myself that I was gay, and what to do with that information.

On one hand we had a great relationship. We got along famously. Every day could be a new adventure, or we could hang out at home and enjoy watching TV or reading. The bedroom was never a problem (as much as you might think it would be). We had sex often. That said, I had these continued and growing feelings toward men.

The feelings were more often than not sexualized — which, oddly, made it easier to rationalize it as being something else, and not that I was gay. For example, I didn’t want to be in a relationship with a man. I just wanted to have sex with them. I was curious and admired their bodies.

Any number of rationalizations. It didn’t have to make sense.

I think I had mentally split love from attraction in a relationship that should really have both. I loved my ex-wife and did think she was beautiful, but I’m not sure I ever sexually desired her in the same way I do my boyfriend. Perhaps initially I did.

It wasn’t really until much later that I began to think of what life would be like, or could be like, if I came out. What would life be like if I loved and sexually desired the person I was with? What if that person was another man?

Fun, Exciting and Full of Shame

For the longest time, I didn’t act on my sexual urges, but eventually I ended up cheating to deal with them. I’m not proud of cheating, and it still bothers me to some degree that I did cheat.

There’s nothing quite like using websites and apps to find strangers to have sex with. I think at this point most of us have had the experience. It’s fun in some ways, but typically devoid of any significant meaning. While I think that’s okay at times, I really wish my first experiences with another guy had meaning to them and weren’t clouded by shame and risk.

Hooking up can be fun when you’re in the right headspace. When you’re not, at least for me at the time, it was really sad. Most heterosexual people, and a growing number of LGBTQ people today, get to sexually experiment when they’re younger. Often in the context of a meaningful relationship. I got to experience that with my ex-wife at those ages. But with men, I was slightly older and it was always sneaking around. I was hiding it from everyone. It was fun and exciting, but also mixed with shame. Shame for what I was doing — both doing something that was gay, and cheating.

You shouldn’t feel sad and disgusted with yourself after sex.

To make matters worse, not only was a struggling with this, but there is an entire underground world of discreet men, “down-low” guys, “bi-married” guys (I put it in quotes because it was a phrase folks used — though I think most of the guys were more like me, and not actually bi), and gays who think it’s fun to have sex with a married man. There were (are?) entire forums and websites devoted to these ideas. Presumably thousands of other guys, just like me. This fed my attempts to normalize what I was doing. To see other guys in similar situations and know I was not alone, and that maybe I could just do this forever. Or to think that maybe I’m bisexual — she and I we’re still having sex, so why not?

Giving Up My Entire Life as I Knew It

I do think those experiences helped me slowly come to terms with who I was. It was a messy way to get there, but in a way it confirmed physically what I was experiencing emotionally. Once I was able to do that, I somehow managed to piece it all together and realize that what I was doing was not healthy.

I was pretty far into this situation by the time I had personally accepted that I was, in fact, gay.

I didn’t want to hurt her or our families, so I kept that to myself and stayed in our relationship. Not for sake of “normalcy” or for kids (we didn’t have any), but for fear of the unknown — how coming out would impact her and others, how my life would change. I was scared. I had made a massive mistake.

I didn’t want to come out because I knew it would upset her. I didn’t want to see her cry or cause her pain. It would also very likely mean the end of that friendship, not just relationship. I knew it likely meant that I also would not ever again see her family. People I had grown close to over the years and who had welcomed me into their clan. I wouldn’t get to see her little brother, who had really become my little brother too, continue to grow up.

I was also worried that I would lose my family. I wasn’t too hopeful that the same folks I had grown up around, who had helped shape my views on being gay, would welcome me with open arms. Just by simply saying I was gay, I was afraid I would lose my best friend, probably many other friends, her family and mine. I’d be giving up my entire life as I knew it.

That was terrifying.

There’s Only So Much You Can Hide

Even though I had messed around with guys, and more or less reached the point of mental clarity on my sexuality, no one knew I was gay until I told a friend in the summer of 2012. He was gay, and I think he suspected that I was gay. A lot of people suspected it, if I’m being honest. Not to feed into stereotypes, but I was never the most masculine of men. And later, when the documentary Do I Sound Gay was released, it really spoke to me. Now, I am just a fem gay man; I own that and express it freely. When I wasn’t out, those parts of me were bottled up and hidden, but there’s only so much you can hide.

People notice what you can’t hide.

I told my friend at a bar one day after work. I don’t recall exactly what we were discussing, but I remember saying something like, “It’s all a lie, and I don’t know what to do about that.” He helped give me the confidence to come out — to envision a future where a gay me was possible. In hindsight, all it took was someone saying it’d be okay. That being gay was okay. That life would be okay. That no matter what, my world would go on. Being gay was only going to change a few things.

I had apparently just needed someone to say that to me. To be supportive.

Several months passed after that. Coming out, even to one person, had made my depression on the subject significantly worse. It was like the closet door was half open. I could see out, but I was still afraid to leave.

It was something that is easy to think about doing, but actually doing it felt impossible. I wasn’t really getting anywhere without telling my wife, and it wasn’t like she was going to ask if I was gay. Though, it had become very apparent to her that something was wrong with me: I wasn’t acting like myself. I was unhappy, irritable, closed-off. Likely, to her, I was just visibly depressed for no apparent reason.

The Evening I Finally Told My Wife

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the evening I ended up telling her. I had been out with friends having dinner and drinks.

It was November 29, 2012. I had a few too many martinis. I got back home. She wasn’t home; she had been at rehearsal for a concert she was performing in. But I, presumably because I was a little drunk and my situation was never far out of mind, started thinking about it and cried.

I had this overwhelming sense of dread. I knew the conversation was coming, but I didn’t know when. I knew it had to happen, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I didn’t know what to do or when to do it or even how to do it.

There was no roadmap for the best way to tell your wife that you’re gay. Well, perhaps there is now. There wasn’t at the time — I Googled it. There were similar stories, but none said what they did in enough detail for me to know what I should do. I desperately wanted someone to tell me what to do. To give me the magic phrases to just make everything be different and better and for this to be done.

She came home, noticed that I had been crying, and asked if I was okay. I don’t remember exactly what was said. I know I was lying in our bed. I know I was quiet for a long while after she asked if I was okay. And I know I said “I’m gay.”

I remember the aftermath of us both crying. She was physically and mentally devastated. That’s what I remember most. The sound of her crying. It was that emotional, ugly, primal kind of cry.

That part was as awful as I had thought it was going to be.

Making It Work as Friends

There was an initial adjustment period. Things weren’t really great between us, but we thought we could make a friendship work. We ended up separating when our lease was up in May. She wasn’t ready to get divorced right away, so I didn’t press the issue.

There was about a year and a half between my telling her and our divorce. It was a such huge adjustment in general that taking small steps didn’t seem like a bad idea. We had become adults together, and our entire lives were intertwined. The waiting was a way to make the finality of the situation a little better, we tried to work together to make it as easy as possible. We tried to meet up a few times every month. Sometimes we cooked together and shared a meal. Other times we took our dog to the park. We did the normal things we used to together, just less frequently.

I told my parents what was going on in March 2013. She told hers. We told friends and others when it came up. We didn’t do any family events together or anything like that. It was very much like we were divorcing, and we were, but we just did it over a longer period than I imagine is normal for most folks.

Eventually we went to court together, having done the dissolution ourselves. After the dissolution was granted, we walked back to our cars. Stood on the side of the street and both cried a little. That was that.

In the six years since I told her I was gay, we’ve had ups and downs as friends. I think that is the best we can manage for now. We stay in contact, but it’s more like old friends now when we chat.

It may have been a mistake to get married, and I can’t speak for her, but I don’t regret it. We had a great relationship and in spite of everything, there are many wonderful memories.

It Gets Better

I realize now that I was desperately trying to not be gay because I thought it was wrong. Internalized homophobia is a wicked beast, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The current societal climate may not be great, but we’ve still made massive strides forward in the last several years. It’s cliche, but it really does get better. You’ll find people who love you and support you. Eventually, you’ll even be one of those people to others.

On a more personal note, I’m fully out to everyone. I dove into the gay community. In some ways I think I was trying to make up for lost time, and in other ways I think I was just happy to be out and to be around folks who encouraged that and wanted me to be my authentic self. Now it often feels like I’ve always been an out-and-proud gay man.

I’ve worked at the LGBTQ community center. Started a gay webseries (Queer Ghost Hunters). My parents took my coming out better than I could have ever imagined (there was some adjustment and still some learning to do, but it was mostly easy with them). I found out that there were other LGBTQ people from my hometown, which was a surprise. It’s always fun running into them when I’m out or at a mutual friend’s party, but I always wonder how my life might have been different (and probably theirs) if we had all come out in high school.

I have a wonderful boyfriend of two years. We’re in the process of adopting a puppy, and have discussed getting married. I have a pretty great life, full of wonderful people and chosen family.

Looking back it seems silly that I was trying so hard to deny all of this to myself.

— As told to Quinn Myers